Every four years, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) hosts a popular International Conference. Since 2012 is the year for the Conference, the RPCNA’s annual Synod was shortened to only three days, instead of its usual five. But three days proved to be enough as Synod finished its business 30 minutes ahead of the condensed schedule.
The 181st Synod of the RPCNA was held at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, from June 27-29, 2012. Rev. David Long, from the RPC in Lafayette, IN, served as Moderator.
“Throughout the proceedings of Synod there has been an overwhelming sense of awe concerning what Jesus is doing in our midst,” wrote Pastor Nathan Eshelman, of the Los Angeles RPCNA, while covering the event for the Aquila Report.
An evidence of Christ’s work in the RPCNA was seen as the denomination entered into a fraternal relationship with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, a church planted by the RPCNA. The relationship is similar to what the RPCNA enjoys with the Reformed Presbyterian Churches of Ireland and Australia.
The RPCNA has seen gradual growth of ten percent over the last ten years. During the past year, most of the six presbyteries in North America and the one presbytery in Japan received new congregations and/or began new mission works. Over 35 percent of RPCNA membership resides in congregations planted within the last 30 years.
“This growth was very encouraging to Synod, but along with the growth come challenges,” wrote Drew Gordon, Editor of the RP Witness, in a report published on the Sola System blog (http://thesolasystem.blogspot.com). “The Home Mission Board has been stretched to the point that it needs to raise more funds or eventually to cut back on funding some new works. Also, on the Global Mission front, new works and new presbyteries bring culturally related challenges.”
One unique challenge facing the RPCNA is the relationship with its Japanese presbytery. According to Drew Gordon, the PRCNA’s Judicial Committee was tasked with “clarifying the place of the Japan Mission and Japan Presbytery in the current structure of the church.” He explains that when the Japanese mission work became a presbytery, the hope was for it to eventually become an “indigenous denomination.” The current existence of both a Japan Mission and a Japan Presbytery “brings challenges” since both are under the oversight of the RP Global Mission Board, but language and “cultural barriers” as well as distance “can make coordination very challenging.”
Both the Global Mission Board and the Japan Presbytery desire continued movement toward the Presbytery “becoming more self-supporting, self-governing and self-sustaining,” but they also want to maintain a strong and supportive relationship with each other. The current plan is to continue the Board’s oversight of the Presbytery for the next 10 years, during which financial support gradually will be reduced.
Also at Synod, Japan Presbytery expressed thanks for generous donations to the Japan Relief Fund, which surpassed $200,000.
Concerned to maximize resources in effective church planting endeavors, the RPCNA Synod approved forming a study committee to examine if current boundaries between presbyteries are optimal for church planting or if they should be adjusted.
As the denomination grows, many churches are employing more than one pastor, so Synod established another study committee to study the multiple pastoral staff model. According to Pastor Eshelman, this action followed the presentation of a paper requesting definitions of the terms “senior pastor, associate pastor, and assistant pastor.”
Delegates were almost evenly divided on whether or not to keep the RPCNA’s “Understanding the Times” committee. Pastor Eshelman explained that the committee “has lost some of its original intent” since many traditional practices such as “solemn assemblies, covenanting, and fasting” have fallen out of use in the denomination. But Synod voted to retain the committee by a vote of 62 to 61.
Last year’s Synod adopted a “biblical testimony” on sexuality that recently appeared in book form as The Gospel and Sexual Orientation by Crown & Covenant Publications. A summary pamphlet is now being prepared for publication.
Geneva College has filed a lawsuit challenging the new government-mandated health care system that would force it to pay for health care that includes abortifacient drugs. The College reported to Synod on its continuing legal battle.
Delegates approved a recommendation to appoint Dr. Jerry O’Neill to another five-year term as President of the Reformed Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. They also elected Pastor Barry York as Professor of Pastoral Theology.
The International Conference planning committee anticipated 1,600 attendants for this year’s Conference, but registration has topped 2,100. This represents about one-third of the households in the entire denomination.
Rev. Eshelman wrote, “There will be a great need to exercise the fruit of the Spirit with such large numbers of people all together. Of course, the psalm singing will be like nothing you have ever heard!”
The next synod of the RPCNA is scheduled for June 24-28, 2013, in Marion, IN.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12-13 of the August 1, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.